Saturday, May 2, 2009

Rules Changes for 2010

The 2010 Sporting Regulations (with differences from 2009 highlighted) makes for some interesting (if dry) reading. It represents the FIA's current vision of F1 racing in 2010, as a gateway to further development in the future.

Given the FIA's previous history with making changes to their proposed changes (everyone got that straight?) we cannot assume that this is the final word; in any case, I have some thoughts on the lowhighlights of the changes.

Cap or no cap?

I have to admit that my initial thought about this was oh no please not another sport that you need a capology expert in order to follow in detail. The NHL's salary cap rules are pretty thick reading, and navigating those regulations to maximize the value out of every penny spent in player compensation requires attention to tedious detail. Such details may make opportunity for plenty of column issues -- but the fan in the arena doesn't really care. Besides, the issue with hockey is that the owners spend themselves into a hole and then punish the players in an attempt to get themselves back under control... after which point they go berzerk again.

The FIA brings a whole new kind of crazy to the idea of a spending cap. There is going to be a cap of something like US$45 million per year -- well, except for marketing and promotion and driver compensation and...

Not only is there a cap, but it is optional, and depending on whether you opt in or out, there are going to be different rules governing what you can do with your money. If you spend lots of money, you will be restricted in some ways; if you go with the cap, you will have more opportunities, but less money to pursue them.

Naturally, the chronically underfunded independents love this idea, while the well-heeled factory efforts don't. Someone suggested that Toyota would have to cut 90% of their spending to fit under a cap. While the board of directors might like this idea, I'm not sure the rest of the organization (those who would be left after the inevitable downsizing, that is) would be so on board with it.

This has all the ingredients of a farce in the making, especially when you add the FIA's punishment (to be decided based on... well, whatever the FIA bases decisions on) and promise to "tune" the areas of technical freedom to keep the cap and non-cap teams more or less at parity.

I have long said that the problem with F1's budgets isn't that Toyota spends US$400 million a year, it is that Toyota has $400 million a year to spend. Telling Toyota that they are now only permitted to spend $45 million is not going to really fix anything.

No refueling

I was never really a fan of race refueling; it seemed to be an artificial way of adding a hidden complexity to something that should really be straight forward. I was never really opposed to it either, except that some of the fires that happened put the drivers and mechanics at risk. While playing with high-tech motorcars is never going to be a totally safe enterprise, refueling made it dangerous for no really good reason.

There are several interesting side-effects of this. First, the cars will now require larger fuel tanks so that they can go a race distance. This will require some changes to the way that things are laid out in the car's midsection, which may themselves be interesting to look at.

The second is that cars will no longer be required to qualify on "race fuel". We will once again be treated to cars being driven at the absolute limit -- fresh tires, low fuel, and no more droning around for the first half of Q3 to burn off fuel. (I still want to return to single lap qualifying, but I'm pretty much the only one who wants that.)

Another will be that the tires will have to be engineered to deal with a car which is much heavier at the start of the race than it is at the end; if the FIA persists with the "option tire" silliness then the weight difference may dictate what tires get used when.

Finally, it means that pit stops will be short again. I doubt that we will get back to the sub-4 second zone that McLaren and Benetton accomplished, but it should be a bit more interesting. The only problem with this is that limits on the number of tires available to a driver will reduce the opportunity for the teams to demonstrate their skill.

15 kg Heavier Cars

This is an attempt to reduce the penalty that taller, heavier drivers have when it comes to sorting their ballast. Right now Kubica runs without KERS because he would rather have a balanced car than one with KERS.

I'm not really sure how this will make much of a difference; lighter drivers will always have more ballast to play with.

No tyre warmers (again)

The GPDA screamed bloody murder about the proposal when it was made for 2009; I'd expect more of the same for the 2010 proposal. Their arguments were a bit silly last time around, but really they have no choice but to repeat them, or they would look silly themselves.

KERS may not be used above 300kph (186mph)

Now I think the intention here is to make KERS a tool for starts and for exiting corners; not for use when going down the main straight, reducing the potential top speed that the cars can achieve. Which is confusing, since it will eliminate one of the prime uses for KERS, which is to get a run at the guy in front of you so you can get into the next corner before he can.


Overall I think these rules changes are a combination of keystone-coppery (the whole cap issue) and fiddling with small change (the tire warmer ban). I foresee much wrangling over the details and implementation of these rules in the near future.

In short, nothing less than we've come to expect from the FIA.